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Small business must make most of web

Look in the papers and you soon realise how many small local retailers are competing with larger national brands for the consumer dollar.

Given the web offers an opportunity for small business to compete with larger firms, you would expect every Perth web developer to have a list of small retail clients as long as their scroll bar.

But they don’t.

It seems small retailers in WA are behaving in a similar fashion to their US counterparts by reacting rather slowly to the changes the Internet is bringing about.

In the US, despite the fact more than 30 million American adults shopped the web and more than eight million made an online purchase, small retail businesses represent only 3.4 per cent of total retail businesses with electronic commerce applications.

As in the US, the biggest hurdle for most small WA businesses is the cost of developing a decent e-commerce site.

From our own experience at Biz E Planet, there is also considerable uncertainty surrounding credit card authorisation among Perth’s retail community.

In fact, most businesses simply don’t know how to proceed or who to talk to first.

The good news for small retailers in Perth is that Australian Internet Service Providers and Hosting services are coming to the rescue with lower cost and better quality ‘off the shelf’ e-commerce offerings.

However, if you are a small retailer considering going online, you won’t find a great deal of inspiration by looking at the websites of small US retailers.

Most don’t realise online shoppers are cautious as to who they do business with.

Direct marketers learned decades ago that small firms need to assuage (unfounded) consumer fears relating to the trustworthiness and reliability of small business.

If you are a small business setting up a website there are a few lessons to be learned from DM practitioners.

Firstly, convince potential customers that you actually exist.

Pictures of your shopfront, the number of years you’ve been in business, a message from the owner, and a plea to “call us, if you have any worries,” all go a long way toward convincing a customer that you are a legitimate business.

Secondly, allay customer fears about putting their credit card on the web.

You can resolve this problem by simply including a box in your e-commerce section that says “if you don’t want to put your card on the web, call us...”

Thirdly, buying on the web is like buying from a catalogue. You can’t actually touch and see the product.

Therefore, good quality photographs, descriptions that include dimensions, sample colours and finishes are essential.

A money back guarantee also goes a long way to reducing customer anxiety.

Finally, the last big worry for web buyers is what happens to the personal information they provide online.

A privacy statement confirming you only use their information for your own mail list will go a long way to encouraging purchase.

In a state as isolated as WA there are considerable benefits for small retailers to take the e-commerce leap.

Now is the time to rethink the costs and focus on revenues and secure the future of your retail business.

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